Skip to comments.Judge Shabaz Announces Retirement (Conservative and Cantankerous)
Posted on 10/10/2007 7:10:44 AM PDT by Diana in Wisconsin
After 25 years on the bench, District Judge John Shabaz has asked President George Bush to seek his successor.
Known as a conservative and cantankerous jurist, Shabaz, 76, will assume senior or part-time status if Bush's nominee is confirmed by the U.S. Senate by Jan. 20, 2009, the president's last day in office.
By taking this course, it's possible, despite his denials, that Shabaz is looking to be able to withdraw his resignation if a conservative successor's nomination stalls in the Senate, according to attorneys familiar with the court.
"This looks very conditional," said an attorney, who asked not to be identified.
"The timing of his announcement is probably personal and practical, too," said Madison attorney Christopher Van Wagner. "He knows how the system works and doesn't want to throw everything up in the air and just see how it lands. He can't safeguard who comes in after he leaves but it is possible for someone with a similar political persuasion to come in that way."
It seems likely that Shabaz, who was appointed President Reagan in 1982, wouldn't wait to retire if it looks like another Republican won't be in the White House until at least 2013, said another attorney who chose not to be identified.
Shabaz said his request wasn't conditioned on having his replacement confirmed by Bush's last day in office.
"At that time I can look at the landscape and probably renew (my offer)," he said.
Shabaz denied that the terms of his request give him some wiggle room.
"I haven't said that and you would be wrong to say that. I've made it as clear as I could," he said.
On senior status Shabaz could greatly reduce his caseload, which he said is the purpose of his Oct. 5 letter to the President. The timing of the letter has as much to do with 25 years on the bench and 50 years of practicing law, he said.
"I was at a law school banquet in downtown Milwaukee and looking around the number of graduates in attendance was about equal to the number that had died," he said. "After 25 years as a judge it may get that way, too."
Regardless of age or political philosophy, Van Wagner, who has practiced before Shabaz as a federal prosecutor and a defense attorney, has seen him move cases through at a pace that gave the court the nickname "the rocket docket."
"He's a trial lawyers' kind of judge. He demands punctuality, he expects brevity and he insists on everyone's awareness of the presence of the jury being the most important thing," said Van Wagner.
Competent and prepared attorneys are allowed to try their cases as they see fit and Shabaz only steps in to "prevent injustice or inordinate delay and not necessarily in that order," quipped Van Wagner.
Attorneys are advised to leave their fragile egos outside the courtroom and be prepared to defend their clients and viewpoints before Shabaz, said Van Wagner. Although he is prone to bluster and cut short "duplicative" remarks, Shabaz will also listen and change his mind when a better argument is presented.
"He's more than willing to change his mind if you bring him valid reasons. He's decisive but willing to reconsider a position if he's given a reason to do so. He'll always be sure to let the lawyer know he should have brought those reasons in the first place," said Van Wagner.
Any judge who is as decisive as Shabaz will cut two ways with attorneys. Asked if he will be missed, an area attorney who sought anonymity doubted it.
Long drug sentences
A tough sentencer, Shabaz continued to give out lengthy prison terms and defending the War on Drugs begun under President Nixon, saying into the late 1990s that it hadn't had enough time to work. In contrast, his counterpart District Judge Barbara Crabb began calling the length of some drug penalties "draconian."
Defense attorney Dennis Ryan, who works before federal judges in Madison, Milwaukee and Rockford, Ill. said it was unfair to say that time has passed Shabaz by.
"He's from an older generation which may certainly play into harder approaches in the drug sentences that I've seen. But between being in his court and Judge (Barbara) Crabb's, I don't know what it would be like to sit and listen to this stuff day after day. It must have an effect on someone," said Ryan.
Some attorneys practicing before Shabaz have said he has become less focused at times, confuses names of defendants and defense attorneys but maintains a tremendous workload years after most people have long retired.
Both Ryan and Van Wagner said Shabaz remains mentally sharp and look forward to working before him for some time.
"He would bring up things that have escaped me on cases that I've lived with for several months. I haven't noticed any fall off in his abilities," said Ryan.
Secret sources and unattributed quotes smearing the judge and everything! ;)
This judge sounds like a true gem.
If only we had more like him in our judicial system.